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THE TEAM TODAY

THE TEAM TODAY: Assessment Sunday

Oilers host season seat holders, prepare for upcoming road trip at Sunday's practice

Sunday, 20.03.2011 / 8:15 PM / The Team Today
By Ryan Dittrick  - edmontonoilers.com
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THE TEAM TODAY: Assessment Sunday
SUNDAY, MARCH 20

ASSESSMENT SUNDAY

Following Saturday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the division rival Colorado Avalanche, the Oilers returned to Rexall place bright and early Sunday morning to prepare for the upcoming two-game road trip.

Although the venue was the same, the afternoon practice took on a much different look as thousands of season seat holders packed the stands at Rexall Place to view the on-ice training.

Leading the charge and embracing the atmosphere was Oilers bench boss, Tom Renney, who instructed his players and interacted with fans with a microphone.

"I’ve been known to talk a lot and I've had the odd player tell me that," Renney said with a smile. "When you spend your life describing things to people, it's not that hard."

Defenceman Theo Peckham added that his commentary was a nice addition to the regular practice routine.

"It was interesting to see some of the little phrases he was coming up with. It was cool and it was a lot of fun to get the fans involved. On both sides, I think we really appreciated it."

Renney spoke highly of the event and was pleased to see the fans having fun.

"It was great. I think anytime you get a chance to connect with your fans and give them a chance to see us do our job as we prepare to play, it's always good. It's good for our guys. They like the energy they draw from it. Certainly from a fan perspective, it's a whole new opportunity to see their team work."

Peckham agreed with his coach’s assessment, adding that the players in the locker room are incredibly appreciative of the fan support in Oil Country.

"Those are the fans we need. Those are the ones that are sticking behind us.  The fans that are still out here having a good time and supporting us. We're trying; we're doing our best. Obviously the wins aren't coming but that will come in time."

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

Following a quick two-game homestand, the Oilers will now head back on the road, making stops in Nashville and St. Louis before returning back to Edmonton later this week. Although the Oilers went winless on the homestand and are now riding a six-game losing skid, Renney believes the past two games have provided the groundwork for positive results in the near future.

"Primarily, we want to win. There's no question about that. I want to make sure that the guys that put the jersey on get an opportunity to play and show us what they're capable of; to learn a little bit more about them, but also them about us and our system of play."

"Every time we go into Nashville, we wonder how we're going to beat these guys because they're very systematic," Renney added. "They know how they want to play and they've played that way ever since [Barry Trotz] has been there, which is forever."

Although the Predators certainly stand as a challenging opponent, Renney believes his club needs to remain focused on their own game.
Head Coach Tom Renney

"What we have to do is go in there, as the underdog again, and pay attention to what we need to do to have success. That's really and truly playing a shift at a time, not allowing them to feel too good about their game."

"I think a big part of our success there is our start."

Renney was also complimentary of his team’s recent efforts, considering the lineup challenges and an early elimination from playoff contention.

"I'm proud of our guys. It sounds corny for a 30th place coach to say that, but I am. We've had adversity for quite some time now and we've dealt with it as professionals; we've dealt with it as men," Renney explained.

"I know they're working at it and they're giving it everything they have. We have all year. This is a really important process to go through. A year from now, I’m hoping that we've had enough experience with this that they know how to deal with it and turn these things into wins."

CALL-UP KEEPERS

Although the Oilers have now lost 202 man games due to injury, recent call-ups have performed well and are making an impression on the coaching staff, as well as veteran teammates.

"They've been great," noted Kurtis Foster. "They're really playing the way we want to play as a team. It's been fun. It's a little different than I think Oilers fans are used to; maybe not as much speed and skill, but I think it's a different game. Getting it in deep, banging bodies, and showing that there's a lot of hope for the future. It's definitely been fun to be a part of it."

Fellow defenceman Theo Peckham agreed, adding that the transition has likely been challenging given the circumstances.
Theo Peckham

"They're playing hard. That's all you can ask. It's definitely tough to come into an NHL atmosphere and perform the way they have. They've carried a huge load for us, and all the power to them. They've been great."

Coach Renney also praised the work of his call-ups, noting that Teemu Hartikainen has been a tremendous addition to his struggling Oilers squad.

"I like the upside there. I love the grit that he plays with and he certainly has the passion to play. He knows that the net is the end point."

"All of that being said on the offensive side of the puck, none of that is lost on his effort coming back and understanding the defensive job. He just needs more exposure to the NHL level and to the coaching that he would face as well as get," Renney added.

According to the coach, Hartikainen’s uprising was somewhat unexpected given his sixth-round selection at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. With more development time and proper coaching, Renney sees a full-time NHL position in the not too distant future.

"He's legitimate in my mind. If we're patient with him and again, keep our objectives for him realistic and work with him on a daily basis here and in Oklahoma City where I think the guys have done an outstanding job, I think the NHL isn't too far away for this young fella."

PROGNOSIS POSITIVE

Injured defenceman Taylor Chorney participated in his first full practice today after having missed the previous 12 games with a knee problem. Although his condition is still graded as week-to-week, positive steps are happening and the smooth-skating blueliner will be traveling with the team this week to continue his on-ice rehab.

"It's been healing faster than I've expected and the trainers as well," Chorney noted.

"Hopefully I can get back for at least a handful [of games]. I don't think there's a full timeline. We've kind of been taking it week by week, and the last couple weeks have been really good and it's been feeling a lot better. I felt pretty good on the ice today."

In addition to Chorney’s improving condition, Colin Fraser and J-F Jacques look to be on the mend as well. Both will be traveling with the team this week, with a chance that they could return to the lineup as soon as Tuesday in Nashville.

"They could be ready as early as Tuesday, but we'll see," Renney said.

Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Tom Gazzola

SATURDAY, MARCH 19

OILERS vs. AVALANCHE:
AT THE MORNING SKATE

Less than a week after adding four call-ups, including three rookies, to their roster, the Oilers announced more line-up changes due to injury Saturday morning.

With a divisional battle vs the Avalanche on tonight's agenda, the Oilers will be forced to play without   Colin Fraser.

"He's got a bad foot. He took a shot in the foot the other night and can't get his skate on," head coach Tom Renney explained.

The coach is "uncertain" about the 26-year-old centre's recovery timeline but doesn't think he will travel on the team's upcoming two-game road trip.

"If he does, it will be because he can skate and we at least can forecast him skating," Renney said. "We'll see how that goes. I'm going to tell you it's day-to-day and that's just me making a statement without really having any conversation with T.D.  (Forss, head athletic therapist)."

Although Fraser is a new addition to the Oilers injured list, the numbers will stay the same because  Theo Peckham is rejoining the line-up. The young defenceman has missed the past eight games due to a concussion and is looking forward to contributing on the ice.

"I definitely feel 100 percent," Peckham said. "Any time you have to sit on the couch and watch your team play and the guys kind of go into battle without you, it's tough. So I mean, definitely for me tonight, it's definitely huge for me to get back in."

By losing a forward and gaining a defenceman, Renney has decided to balance the line-up by moving blueliner Jason Strudwick to forward. The veteran skater has played up front before, and Renney is confident he can handle the increased offensive responsibility.

"He understands the game well enough to know that whatever position is being played, he knows what to do," Renney stated. "Obviously I have to make sure that we deploy our people in a way that gives us a chance to win, so we'll see how he starts off and take it from there."

With Strudwick slotted in, the forward lines will be as follows:

Jones - Cogliano - Eberle
Paajarvi - Reddox - Omark
Giroux - O'Marra - Hartikainen
MacIntyre - VandeVelde - Strudwick

Nikolai Khabibulin will be tasked with protecting the net from the Avalanche, a team the Oilers have defeated three of four times this season.

"We have had good success against them, the last couple times especially, and I'm not sure I know why," Renney admitted. "I like to think it's because we're engaged and we played well and we executed well and we stuck with it.

"I'm not sure what the circumstances will be tonight that provides us the necessary momentum to go win a hockey game, but it has to start with us. It can't be anything other than that, we have to just pay attention to playing hard, getting a good start, sustaining it, and really trying to stay with a game plan that we think will give us a chance to win."

Colorado has lost its past 10 games and Edmonton is prepared to see a desperate club tonight.

"They're definitely a team that's struggling, but that often brings the best out of teams," Peckham said. "We expect them to come in tonight and play a really hard, solid game. So we're going to have to match that."

AVALANCHE 3 - OILERS 2 (SO)

A late equalizer courtesy of Kurtis Foster secured at least one point for the Oilers Saturday night, but a strong overtime and shootout performance from opposing goaltender Brian Elliott ensured the Avalanche finished with two, ending their 10-game losing streak.

Author: Jen Sharpe | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Tom Gazzola & Bob Stauffer

 
FRIDAY, MARCH 18

T.G.I.F

Following Thursday's 3-1 loss to the Coyotes, the Oilers skipped an on-ice practice and instead took their training off-ice for a workout in the team gym Friday morning.

While the previous night's result was disappointing, both players and coaches agreed the club's effort was admirable. The Oilers out-shot the Coyotes 36-17, no small feat considering five of their top seven scorers are injured and seven rookies were in the line-up, including two playing their first-ever NHL games.

"If we come out with the type of effort we had last night and manage the puck well and hopefully have a little more success, for example on our power-play, then I think we've got a real good shot at winning," head coach Tom Renney said.

The coach was pleased with the performances of his team's most-recent additions, call-ups Teemu Hartikainen, Ryan O'Marra, Alex Giroux, and Chris Vande Velde.

"I thought they did good," Renney said. "We knew they would work hard, we knew that game one for them would be emotional and lots of adrenaline, and what we hoped for was that they would be able to play within the structure.

"You could tell that they were proud to be here, you could tell they wanted badly to contribute, and ... they wanted to do well on behalf of themselves to put out a good showing. I get that, and I appreciate that. And the beauty of it is, they did it all for their team," he added.

Vande Velde, who along with Hartikainen made his NHL debut last night, said the game was "a lot of fun."

"It was just a good experience. I think I'll be much more prepared to play against Colorado on Saturday here, so I'm looking forward to that and hopefully I'll just go out there and play well."

ANTICIPATING THE AVALANCHE

Edmonton will carry a five-game losing streak into tomorrow night's game, but that pales in comparison to Colorado's current 10-game skid. The Oilers were responsible for two of those Avalanche losses, but Renney doesn't think a third victory will come easily.

"Colorado is a good hockey club and they're proud too. They're going to want to win. They're going to look at us the same way we look at them and come after us, so we've got to be ready for that," he said.

Will Theo Peckham return to the line-up Saturday? "We'll see how he's doing tomorrow," head coach Tom Renney said. (Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club)

The Oilers might get some help from defenceman Theo Peckham, who has missed the past eight games with a concussion but completed the final phase of his recovery -- coach Renney's skating test -- this morning.

"I liked the numbers much better today than I did a few days ago, so I'll sleep on that one and we'll see," Renney said.

Two other injured players skated this morning -- Jean-Francois Jacques (foot) and Ryan Whitney  (ankle) -- but the coach confirmed they are not ready to return to the line-up.

"[Jacques] went out real quick and came right back off. It's just too sore in the skate, so I think for the time being at least, it's status quo," he explained.

Whitney underwent "season-ending" surgery in January, and Renney dismissed any notion of rushing the veteran defenceman's recovery so that he can play again before summer hits.

"If he's ready to play and play a significant amount and contribute to our cause, then I would entertain that. If it's just to sort of say 'Okay, we got one game in before the end of the year, we're back,' I mean, he's going to be back in September anyway. What's the big deal?"

OTHER LINE-UP NOTES

Speaking of defensive veterans, Jason Strudwick blocked a shot and hobbled off the ice last game but will play tomorrow.

"I think Struddy's fine to go. I don't think there's any issues there at all," Renney said.

Behind Strudwick and his fellow skaters will be goaltender Devan Dubnyk, who has dropped his past three decisions but is eager to get back into the win column.


Single and standing tickets are still available for the game. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE

ONE-ON-ONE

Alexandre Giroux

In the latest edition of our fan question series, Harleen of Edmonton submitted a question for Alex Giroux.

HARLEEN: "Who is your roommate and what is his worst habit that bugs you?"

ALEX: "Down in Oklahoma it is Phil Cornet and he always sleeps. It doesn't matter what time it is, the light's out all the time so I always have to be quiet. Here it was Paajarvi, and we're on the same schedule. We don't nap in the afternoon, so the lights are always on and I like it. "

Fill out the form on the right to submit a question for one of the Oilers. We will ask one of the submitted questions after the next practice and will post the answer in the next Team Today.


Author: Jen Sharpe | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Ryan Dittrick

 

 

Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com
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